Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble TEXAS Hurricane   Box Set (corrected copy)

Why has the blues been banished from popular music? Probably because young people today don’t have the blues. For one thing they seem generally more happy and well-adjusted than previous generations—certainly in matters of sex, though recently a youngster who couldn’t get any indulged his self-pity with a mass shooting. Perhaps had he learned to sing or even listen to the blues, some soothing could have stopped him.

Today’s youngsters seem more casual about sex, just as they obviously do about dating, which seems to have gone the same way as blues in popular music. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Songs wallowing in self-pity about broken relationships just don’t resonate and are in short supply. You can almost hear the modern reaction: “Get a life. Stop self-flagellating.”

Hip Hop and Rap substitute for blues misogyny and menace. Alternative rockers drown their shallow sorrows in irony.

The blues has traveled in and out of the mainstream. It took the early ‘60s British Invasion and especially John Mayall, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones to introduce white America to urban Chicago blues and that led to an astonishing blues resurgence with mainstream labels like Columbia reissuing for a young generation everything from Bessie Smith to Son House. It made rock stars of Muddy Waters and other “old timers” and charted a blues course for rock music that lasted until the synth-hair band syndrome of the 1980s.

Not that blues went away or that guitar slingers disappeared; they just landed a wrung beneath the radar: Lonnie Mack, Robert Cray, Jonny Lang, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales and Kenny Wayne Shepherd to name but a few.

And then of course there was Stevie Ray Vaughan, who in 1983 under the aegis of legendary producer John Hammond forged from a pure blues format an enduring mainstream career.

Born in 1954 in Dallas, Texas, Stevie, encouraged by his older brother Jimmie, at age 10 picked up a guitar and while still in junior high school gigged in teen groups around town.

He dropped out of high school and moved to Austin to pursue a full time musical career (though he briefly took part in an Southern Methodist University alternative arts program). He played in Austin with the Cobras and then with a rhythm & blues revue of his creation called Triple Threat that included drummer Chris Layton. The group broke up in 1981, but Stevie and Chris remained together and after recruiting bassist Tommy Shannon, formed Double Trouble after the classic Otis Rush song.

The big break came when the unsigned Double Trouble got invited to play the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival. While some in the audience booed the group, which played very loud and very hard, two in the crowd, David Bowie and Jackson Browne, took notice.

Soon Vaughan was in the studio with Bowie playing on his Let’s Dance album and then in Jackson Browne’s Downtown Studio recording the group’s debut album Texas Flood—free of charge thanks to Browne’s generosity and his belief in Vaughan and the group.

In short order John Hammond signed them to Epic Records and in the summer of 1983 the album was released. Hammond executive produced every SRV album until Hammond’s death in 1988.

Quickly Vaughan and Double Trouble became big well beyond the blues world. The album was nominated for two Grammys®, one for “Best Traditional Blues Recording” and one for “Best Rock Instrumental Performance” for the scorcher “Rude Mood.”

In May of 1984 the group released Couldn’t Stand the Weather, the album best known in the audiophile world, especially for the epic “Tin Pan Alley” (a/k/a “The Roughest Place in Town”)— a song recorded in a single take. The album recorded at The Power Station (now Battery Studios) in 19 days is a musical and sonic spectacular that reached #31 on the Billboard 200 chart and “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” was in heavy rotation on MTV.

Vaughan busied himself with outside projects including producing a comeback album for his hero Lonnie Mack and in 1986 released the inevitable live album Live Alive, not included here, which is fortunate since it wasn’t a great record, though his performance on it of “Say What?” earned him a Grammy nomination that year.

In 1987, after a successful tour with Double Trouble both he and Tommy Shannon entered a 30 day rehab program where they both kicked their long time drug and alcohol addictions.

In 1989 the group released In Step, the first album Vaughan admitted that he’d made sober. Not “aided” by drugs and alcohol, Vaughan and group produced its best and most successful album, with the song “Crossfire” becoming his first #1 Album Radio hit and Vaughan winning his second Grammy for “Best Contemporary Blues Recording.”

In 1990 Stevie and his brother Jimmie went to Memphis to record the Vaughan Brothers album Family Style produced by Nile Rodgers, where the two brothers, who, for years, saw little of each other, reconnected musically and otherwise. The album won two more Grammys.

On August 26th 1990 the group played a gig in East Troy, Wisconsin that featured an encore with Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and brother Jimmie. At 12:31 Stevie Ray Vaughan boarded a Chicago-bound helicopter that crashed three minutes after takeoff killing him, the pilot and three other passengers. SRV was 35.

John Lee Hooker said “You couldn’t help but like him, you couldn’t help but love him. I never cry, but when I heard the news I sat down on my bed and cried like a little baby.”

Yes, Vaughan played fast but he never did so at the expense of touch and emotional feel. His overdriven Stratocaster sound is one that guitar aficionados never tire of hearing live or on record, especially when it’s well recorded.

The Texas Hurricane Box Set

Yet again Chad Kassem sets high the box set reissue bar delivering a “must have” package for SRV fans, every bit the equal of the one Doors fans have come to cherish.

The physical box itself is similar to the Doors box— a sturdy fold-open construction here finished in faux, non-texture leather. Inside are the six studio records: Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Soul to Soul, In Step, Family Style, and the posthumous compilation The Sky is Crying.

All are presented in double gatefold paper on cardboard “Tip On” jackets, even when the originals, like The Sky is Crying were not gatefolds. Along with producing better looking packages the gatefolds allow for double pockets used for the double 45rpm version of the set, which is also available on hybrid SACD with bonus tracks.

The box also includes a very nicely turned out full sized booklet filled with wonderful photos and well-considered annotation by Guitar World senior editor Andy Aledort plus a contribution by Vaughan biographer Craig Hopkins.

As always with Mr. Kassem, when possible, only original analog master tapes were used—in this case 30 IPS, ½” tapes. Though In Step was digitally recorded Analogue Productions says an analog tape was supplied for mastering.

Mastering honors go to Ryan K. Smith at Sterling Sound

. Because the sound here is so spectacular and so betters the originals, everyone involved deserves mention from Barry Wolifson who maintains Sterling’s Neumann VMS80 lathe to Gary Salstrom who runs the Quality Record Pressing plant’s plating and pressing facility.

Not going to give you an album by album play by play or comparison to originals other than to say every one of these records betters the originals and by a considerable margin. It is not even close. Incredibly, in the case of Soul to Soul, this is the first reissue in 14 years cut from the correct master tape! Every other reissue used the wrong tape that included an unapproved take of the album’s final track.

Going through these well-recorded albums was in many cases a re-acquaintance pleasure musically and sonically. Since I knew Bob Ludwig had mastered DMM at Masterdisk the original The Sky Is Crying I decided to for once bet against him and that was a good choice! This reissue creams the original dynamically and especially tonally. For those unfamiliar with it, while it’s posthumous it is not an album of “throwaways” and the sound is excellent.

I didn’t know In Step was digitally recorded when I put it on but after a few albums of sonic “wows” after about two minutes of In Step I said to myself “What the fuck happened here? This is teeth rattlingly unlistenable. The sound of the other albums: dynamic, harmonically fleshed out, three-dimensional, transparent and as “in the studio” as recordings can get, became thin, white and bleached, with starved instrumental timbers, cardboard drums and cymbals that were almost unrecognizable. The other records sound better as you turn them up—as it should be—but this one sounds bad at low levels and worse as you turn it up. Those sizzly things are cymbals? Too bad there’s no METAL involved.

I scoured the credits and there it was: “DIGITALLY RECORDED”. Which is a damn shame because SRV’s first “clean and sober” album packs a powerful musical punch and points the way forward for the artist, with “Crossfire”, “Tightrope” and especially the gorgeous “Riviera Paradise” showing the way. Fortunately the latter, which reminded me of some of Jeff Beck’s better instrumental work, is a low simmer that doesn’t suffer as much as the rockers, which made my head ache before, BTW, I knew it was DIGITALLY RECORDED. BTW: most of these albums were superbly engineered and mixed by Richard Mullen. He's given a second credit on In Step (with his name incorrectly spelled) after Jim Gaines so it's not as if a different team was involved and that might account for the sound. It's the digits and not even a transfer to analogue tape can fix it.

Should you buy this box set? Well if you are a SRV fan of course, no doubt about it. You’ve never heard these albums sound like this. That is a 100% guaranty. Even after you say “yes” (if you do), you have to decide between the 33 1/3 and 45rpm versions. If “Tin Pan Alley” is any indication, the 45rpm version sounds bigger, wider, deeper and sweeter than the already outstanding 33 1/3 version.

And yes, as good as the Pure Pleasure double LP set is, this one at either speed smokes it, the original and especially the Sundazed edition.

There’s not a bad record in the set, which is good since these titles are not separately available. It's all or nothing. Unless you are not fan, or hate electric blues based music, I don't hear how you can go wrong.

As far as the sound here goes, if your system can do it, if you crank up Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Soul to Soul or The Sky Is Crying, the experience will be as close to “live” as you’re likely to hear from a rock recording. The cymbal precision and extension knocked me out—in a good way.The louder the better!

To sum it up: this is an impeccably produced box set physically and especially sonically. It’s the best these albums have ever and probably will ever sound.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Jim Tavegia's picture

Your first two paragraphs had me jump out of my seat, and after I regained my composure, I sat back down and realized that being a high school teacher I have a totally different perspective than you, but I will keep that perspective totally to myself and will continue to read on after those two paragraphs. This is my oasis from teaching.

I love Stevie and he certainly did leave us way too soon. To think of all the great music lost out on is very sad.

Sometime I would love to year your take on Hugh Laurie's (Dr. House) foray into the land of music. I really like what he has done. I don't think that either of of 2 albums have been put out on vinyl, yet.

tonyd's picture

Both available on vinyl.

sunderwood's picture

How would you compare this version of In Step to the earlier vinyl release?

rdh79730's picture

In the summer of 1983, I was 13. I was living in Dallas at the time and practically lived at my best friend's house (whose dad was always out of town) spinning records on his dad's awesome system and propping the massive speakers up into the bedroom windows facing out to the pool. That's where I first heard Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill. His older brother was on the UT swim team and came home from Austin for the weekend. He came out to the pool and said something to the effect of, "Hey you little peckerheads, shut up for a minute and listen to this. I've seen this guy play in Austin and he's the best you'll ever hear!" Of course, we did what he said as we knew he'd kick our asses if we didn't. He put on Texas Flood and cranked the volume dial to "11". SRV was God to us since that day. I have all his albums on various pressings, but I plan to get this box too.

Miner42's picture

I just received my 45rpm version - had it preordered since Sept 2011. My box number is 261 - I was hoping for a lower number. This is one well-done box set, and attractive - I will be proud to display it out of my rack. As MF has stated the quality is superb and sound is mezmerising. I have the original releases of the six studio LPs but this box set is the tops. Not cheap by any means, but well worth the price of admission.

samman's picture

Dear Mike, with all due respect to you, I can't believe your comments on In Step vs what I heard on my system. Maybe you confused it with the SUndazed version. Maybe you have a bad copy. Maybe you were drinking. Maybe I have a "Hot Stamper." I have the 45rpm version, and the sound is in no way harsh or unlistenable. In fact, I was impressed with the deep bass on Crossfire, as well as many of the other cuts. The stage is wide and the sound warm. Based on your review of this album in the box, I was expecting a sonic nightmare when I got to In Step, but as I said, that was not the case. Something is off here.How can it sound great on my system (ksa 100 Krell, audible illusions M3b, etc.) and so hard on yours? I always trust your ears, but I am perplexed this time.


Michael Fremer's picture
I appreciated your sarcasm believe it or not. However as I was going through the set and marveling at the great sound when I got to that one without knowing its digital origins it sounded other-worldly, and very different. The opening track's drum sound was and is awful compared to the rest of the set. Those cymbals sound bogus. I didn't say it was terrible in all respects but compared to the others in the set it does sound terrible to me….again that's what I thought before seeing that it was digital…though if I had to bet without knowing I'd say it was digital because it has a particular sonic signature I don't at all like...
Paul Boudreau's picture

"Probably because young people today don’t have the blues." Um, I don't think the human condition would allow that. I'd even guess that teenagers today have it worse than those of 40-50 years ago.

I first heard SRV on David Bowie's "Let Dance" (a "who the heck is that?" moment). The guy could really play and did the best Hendrix covers ever, in my opinion. Again in my opinion, he didn't know when to stop playing - music needs a little space now and then. Makes me think of Miles' supposed reply to Coltrane when Trane said he didn't know how to stop playing: "Try taking the effing horn out of your mouth."

Michael Fremer's picture
They of course have a form of them but based on the music they consume it's expressed far differently. Where are their songs like "Since I Lost My Baby"? or choose your own example…. I don't hear the same kind of blues...
Paul Boudreau's picture

yes, indeed. It's a brave new world. I'm not sure how it's expressed these days amongst the yout' - death metal or other barely- or non-musical forms? Thereby opening me up to "cranky old guy" comments, ha ha.

Sort of apropos: This afternoon I wasn't exactly feeling blue but desired a kick inna pants so I listened to the 2LP version of the Smithereens "B-Sides - The Beatles" which did the trick. Not an audiophile recording but I imagine it wasn't meant to be.

howardk's picture

I think it's great that the original SRV albums were so meticulously remastered. However, I'm disappointed that the LPs/SACDs can't be purchased individually, as can the upcoming mono remasters of the Beatles albums. I'm sure a lot of people would like to try one or two of their favorite SRV albums without investing in the whole box set. Also, since the remasters are available as a SACD box set, the corresponding DSD downloads should also be available on Acoustic Sounds' own site. I realize that this is all about marketing, but I've seen interviews with Chad Kassem where he describes Acoustic Sounds as format agnostic, providing the music people want in whatever format they want. So Chad, I want to purchase the individual SRV LPs, and I would also like to download the corresponding DSD files.

samman's picture

I didn't mean to be harsh with my humor, and I'm glad you didn't take it as such. You're reviews and ears have meant a lot to me over the years, as you were the only voice out there in the 90s saying the same thing about digital that I was trying to convey to my friends. I guess the only thing I disagree with in your review of In Step is the "unlistenable" part. Man, I've heard a lot of "unlistenable" recordings on my system, and while I can hear how the drums sound a little funky on In Step, it is far from "unlistenable" as say some early digital CD. All my best to you.

Michael Fremer's picture
That's all...
amarok89's picture

How does In Step compare to other digitally recorded albums? Did they just mess up this remastering?

Michael Fremer's picture
The early ones from the 80s and 90s all have a particular sound that I find artificial and unpleasant. It's like The Talking Heads albums all sounded great and then came "Stop Making Sense". It sounded awful and artificial. Didn't compute.
amarok89's picture

So many albums from old heroes like Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, etc. had that horrible clinical sound. I am previewing all of Eric Clapton's Journeyman in the iTunes store just to get me in the (anti)mood to write this. That is one album I got rid of after only listening once or twice because of that plastic sound. Right now I am not hating it as much but that's because the sound unfortunately has become so ubiquitous. Isn't much of that just style as much as from being digitally recorded?

I can see where In Step has that 80's sound. I listened to my CD after I read this review and although that one was recorded digitally I would still love a clean LP version of it, as well as The Sky is Crying. If the sound on the box set copy of In Step is better than any other version out there then I would be fine with it because my CD isn't unlistenable. Now the fact that I can't get the two I want individually is another story.

elliotdrum's picture

There is a great number of young people gravitating to Americana
music. Music that has melody- harmony and heart at the center.
There is also young people playing real musical instruments that takes years of study and practice. Some playing classical music-
jazz and yes the blues.
I have all the Stevie Ray Vaughan recordings in my collection on
various formats cd-vinyl etc. I really like his music very much.
But he was not Jimi Hendrix - Hendrix was a big influence on Stevie of course- also the Jimi Hendrix Experience was beyond
extraordinary -Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell in 1967 was the most exciting band in rock I ever heard and imo created Jazz-Rock
fusion more than any other artists even Miles. Listen to Voodoo
Chile from Electric Ladyland. Yes Noel was playing what Jimi asked him to play but the groove he created was there and Mitch
Mitchell was one of the most unique drummers in history.
He could strut his stuff like Philly Joe Jones play polyrhythmic
patterns like Elvin Jones and pound like Blakey and then add funk
influences from James Brown drummers like Clyde Stumblefield.
The Experience still blows my mind. So let's hope young people still get the blues.

Bluejimbop's picture

"As long as there are men and women, The Blues will never die."

kenkirk's picture

and I love it! But sometimes you just miss that record stacking adapter... yea, we need a newly engineerd record stacking spindle for box set like this! :) Yea, I have the originals, and yes the new box set smokes them. But my originals are very good.

my new username's picture

A friend and I went to see SRV on his last tour. He opened for Joe Cocker at some outdoor amphitheater as we sat on a hill. Cocker was very fine but we didn't stay for his complete set. The opening act was the reason we were there. A few weeks or less later when Vaughan died it was like getting sucker punched and then kicked in the gut. I hadn't experienced a musical hero of mine in his prime before or since.

Ysxd5's picture

Love it. Awesome quality. SRV is coming over again tonight...